July 23, 2018
When your husband dies, your dreams with him die as well. For me, some of those simple dreams were seeing Michael hold our little baby for the first time and telling him how good fatherhood looked on him. Sadly, dreams of sharing the love of Christ together, raising our son together, having even more children, buying our first house, traveling together, seeing our grandchildren, and doing all of the highs and lows of life together all ended in a moment. New good things would still come, but it would be without him. Most of us have broken dreams, but what are we supposed to do with them? And is there even anything we can do with them?
As you may imagine, there came a point in grief where I was fairly angry about all of these broken dreams. Even though I trusted God, I was still upset about everything I had lost along with Michael. I didn’t like the drastic, sudden change that had occurred in my life. I was severely rattled and trying to come to grips about minor things, like not being able to send him a text throughout the day or making him breakfast and packing his lunches. I was struggling with the fact that I didn’t have uniforms and nasty, sweaty P.T. clothes to wash, let alone the fact that we wouldn’t have anymore children together after the sweet, little one that was in my womb at the time of his death. I knew I had to trust that God knew what He was doing, but I didn’t want to let go of those now dead dreams.
I held onto all of my broken dreams, I wept over them, and I was angry about them. I think a lot of my anger sprouted from fear. I was struggling with a lie that said my future was going to be hopeless. At times, I was even thinking that my plan for my life was better than God’s plan. I had forgotten that God had dreams for my life, too. And since God is God and I am not, He knows and sees what I don’t, so His plan for my life is very obviously different than my own. When I began to fully trust God for that in the midst of my pain, I began to give up my broken dreams to Him.
The dreams were dead, and clenching them tightly in my fists was only digging my wounds deeper and wider. With clenched fists full of my own dead dreams, I couldn’t make room and take grasp of what God was offering to me as His dreams for my life. As I continued to hand over my own dreams to God, I began to realize He was taking my heart’s desire off of them and towards His dreams for me. This wasn’t just something that happened in a day, it was a process, and continues to be as life goes on and more broken dreams surface. When my son blew out his candles for his second birthday, and I thought, I wish his earthly daddy was here to celebrate him, I had to immediately follow up with, Here, Lord take this broken dream, and fill it with more of You. Nevertheless, the healing process had begun and the pangs of broken dreams were no longer destructive because my desire for God’s dreams for my life were greater than my own.
If we allow Jesus to do it, our broken dreams break way for blessing. In early widowhood, I used to just beg God to let me have some glimpse of what my life would look like a year or three out from then. I was so afraid of surprises and I just wanted to know so I could be prepared for what was up ahead. I remember telling my mom about how I felt and she asked me, “A year ago would you have wanted God to show you what your life would be like today?” I said, “Ummm, NO!” I thank God He didn’t tell me as a new widow what my life would be like today because I would’ve been mortified! The funny thing is, I love my life today. Yes, it’s not easy and there is pain, but that doesn’t take away from the good. I get to raise a precious little boy and I get the opportunity to be a part of God’s plan in other’s lives, as well. However, a year or two ago, my life now would have looked scary and unstable. The life I live today is very different from the dreams I once had for my future, but I know God’s dreams for me are beyond greater than my own. Even still, in this broken, sin filled world we live in, yes, life will include heartache.
Our Heavenly Father truly wants good for our lives. I have tended to say, “Good is not easy,” and when I look back on my short life and all the good that has come, I’ve realized that nothing good in my life was led by easiness (or painlessness). If we are equating good with easy, then we’ll find ourselves running away from God’s good plan for our lives. We’ll end up taking the easy route thinking we’re headed towards good things, but end up in harmful things rather than just painful things. The more broken dreams we have, the more opportunity we have to see God move in our lives. We just need to hand it over to God and trust Him through the pain; He will provide the grace.
June 25, 2018
Being a friend to a widow is a special calling in itself. It requires patience, compassion, and a lot of prayer. If you are a friend to a widow, please don’t think for a second that your relationship isn’t important to her. Whether you knew her before her husband died or you became friends after, you are important. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my friends being there to be a listening ear or a helping hand.
So, you may be wondering what exactly to do or say to encourage your friend but aren’t sure how to go about it. There is no honest way for me to give you an exact guideline of how to be an awesome friend to a widow, because I only know my own grief and my own needs—but, I’ve made a little list that I hope and pray will help you to come alongside your friend in her grief and get to know her unique needs so you may meet them the best you can.
- Don’t be afraid about not having the “right” thing to say, because honestly, she probably just needs you to just listen more than anything else.
- Don’t be afraid to sit in silence. There will be times when a widow doesn’t want to talk but still wants to have someone there. Hours after I found out about the death of my husband, a few women came to simply be with me. They said their condolences and then they just stayed around the house. It was nice to have people near, while not having the pressure to communicate. Ask her if she wants to be alone, but don’t assume it for yourself.
- Ask her questions. Almost all of my friends would start out with something like this before asking me a question about grief or widowhood or my late husband, “I don’t want to offend you, or pry, so if it’s too much you don’t have to answer.” And then I would laugh because I actually enjoy being asked! Questions meant someone cared. And if you still aren’t sure if it’s okay to ask then simply begin your question with line above!
- The obvious thing to do may be to cry with her, but it is so important to not forget to laugh with her. A widow needs friends who aren’t afraid to laugh with her. And she also needs you to know that it doesn’t mean she is “done grieving.”
- Invite her. Having a birthday party, holiday party, Super Bowl party, or any get-together and think it may be too soon to invite your widowed friend? Invite her. She may say no, but it’s good for her to know that she hasn’t been forgotten or ousted. After the loss of my husband, I felt like a complete outsider. I knew grief made people uncomfortable, so to have friends that I knew still wanted me around, grief and all, was uplifting—even if I turned the invitation down (which I did a lot).
- Acknowledge the hard days. The anniversary of a husband’s death, Mother’s Day (if she is a mother), and her birthday can be hard days. I have had amazing friends who have surprised me with handwritten cards, flowers, and gift cards. Their awareness of tender days for me has been so encouraging to me, and I could never thank them all enough.
- Be there to help. Not having a husband to help me with things around the house left me feeling like a burden on others. I’m so grateful for the friends who pushed me to allow them to help me before I was able to humble myself and learn to ask. I could be wrong, but I think every widow will be grateful for yard maintenance—and some house cleaning. Also, having friends she knows she can call on to watch the kids if something’s comes up and family isn’t available. Let her know she isn’t burden, and you enjoy being able to help her.
- Pray and get into the Word. Pray for her (and her children) to draw closer to the Lord in their time of suffering and pray for yourself to help them along their journey. Read the Bible with her, text her scripture, encourage her in the Lord. Align your own heart to the Word so that you may be encouraged to encourage, as well.
- Lastly, be sensitive. Be loving. There is no real timeline or order for grief. Grief is as unique as each of us are.
April 2, 2018
“And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you.” 1 Thessalonians 3:12
After I was informed of my husband’s death, I realized my life was not ever going to be the same. I had a hard time wrapping my head around it, but there really wasn’t much time for that anyways. There were legal issues to deal with, memorials to help organize, preparations to be made in order to move back to the states, and a funeral to arrange. This felt like more than enough for me to deal with while processing my new reality, so I will be forever grateful for our church, community, friends, and family for stepping in and taking care of the small things, like making me eat—which are truly the big things.
The first year after my husband died is still pretty blurry. I think it always will be because the “widow’s fog” was so thick and heavy during this time. I was basically living on auto-pilot simply trying to focus on breathing, eating, showering, and sleeping. Every emotion you could think of was a tornado inside of me. I wanted to be around people, but then when I was, I just wanted to be alone. Ultimately, I just wanted to go back to my old life and be with Michael. And when I was asleep at night, I was with him, but every time I woke up I had to retell myself what had happened. Laying in my bed in the morning and reprocessing everything was something I would dread before I fell asleep the night before. As crazy as it sounds, there were moments I would wake up and try to believe that my real life was actually a horrible nightmare—but trying to believe a lie, never makes it truth. There are so many delicate struggles I wouldn’t have ever imagined that come along with a great loss.
My new life was weird. It was absolutely nothing like what I had planned. I felt like I had to start my life over again, but I didn’t know where to begin. My first year of widowhood I lived with my parents, so my next step would have to be moving out on my own. As much as I wanted to be living on my own, I was scared. Nevertheless, I began tr
ying to find someplace to rent until the widow’s fog had lifted and I would be mentally able to buy a home. After much trial and error (and a lot of prayer), I ended up renting a little house with the most amazing landlords I could have ever asked for. Living on my own as a single mom was a major adjustment, but I’m so glad God had me take that step of faith, because He has grown my trust in Him so much through the process and continues to as new steps arise.
For me, one of the hardest parts of adjusting to living without my husband was when the sun went down. I would rock my little baby to sleep, lay him in his crib, slowly tiptoe out of the room, and gently shut the door. My feeling of accomplishment that I had gotten him to sleep soon turned into a desire to wake him up. With my son in bed, and my dog curled up on the couch, the house was quiet. I felt the overwhelming need for my husband to be there with me and I wanted a distraction. There was no amount of earnest desire that could make him appear though, so I had to find a way to cope. At first, coping was going to sleep immediately after putting my son down for bed in order to avoid the feeling of loneliness. Eventually, I realized this wasn’t going to make it go away, so I had a choice to make. Was I going to believe that God himself would show up like He says He will and be my Comforter or not? Instead of believing the lie I heard every night, “You’re alone,” I had to choose the truth and believe God was with me.
By God’s faithfulness, the evenings are no longer a time I dread. However, when one struggle fades away, another seems to take its place. Grief has been a shape-shifter for me. Today, I have a 2-year-old son that is trying to figure out what a ‘daddy’ is. If you show my son a picture of his dad he will no doubt say, “That’s Daddy!” But because he has no context of what a ‘daddy’ is yet, he’ll also ask me after I speak with a male cashier at the store, “You talkin’ ta daddy, Mama?” To which, I remind him on his own level that daddy died and he doesn’t live on earth anymore. As much as I wish it didn’t sting, it does. Right now, in his 2-year-old mind, a daddy is just a male in their 20-30’s. Even though it will be awhile before my son feels the
sting of his father’s death, the brokenness of a 2-year-old not knowing the embrace of a father hurts me. I don’t know what that’s like to grow up having never met your father, but I pray God gives me wisdom in guiding my son through it and for him to look to Abba as Father.
God has been faithful to bring me this far through grief and I trust Him to carry us to the finish line. There isn’t a clear way to describe what life after the death of a husband is like, except that the waves of grief come and go and you never know how hard the next wave will hit. Feeling every emotion known to man in one day (or even one hour) is totally normal for a widow. We can’t have control over our grief, but we can have control over how we prepare for the waves, like reading God’s word and talking it through with Him. I don’t know how grief is going to look next year, but for today I will take whatever it is that hurts me to God and trust Him to use it to grow me deeper into Him.
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Psalm 42:11 ESV
March 5, 2018
As a young high school girl, I began to grow a seemingly irrational fear. As irrational as the fear would have sounded to others, it was unquestionably real to me. My fear was of becoming a widow, specifically a young one. I had even vowed to myself to never, ever marry a man in the military, since a military man would only increase my chances of being a young widow. A couple years passed with this fear still lingering in the back of my head. Surprisingly, I ended up getting married while still in my teens to a boy named Michael who would join the military soon after we wed. (Never say never, right?) I loved him enough to accept that was what he wanted to do, and even though it scared me a little, I was his wife so I supported him.
Eventually it was official, Michael joined the military and not too long after we were living in Germany. So many amazing changes in such a short amount of time, and even more were yet to come. A little over a year of being married, we found out I was pregnant. We were both so excited and immediately began to mentally prepare for the big shift soon to come for our tiny family. Our life was good, in a completely normal everyday life kind of way. He loved his job, we had awesome friends, we lived in a beautiful village, we had a precious, little dog and a baby on the way. It was all so normal, and then suddenly one day everything was not normal at all.
It was a typical Friday morning for us. We got up about 5:00am, we had breakfast, talked about plans for my birthday, shared lots of laughter, and then Michael left for work after he prayed over us. I had no idea it would be the last time I would see him. I was nearly four months pregnant at the time, so I went back to sleep for another hour to get some extra rest. I woke up to a knock on the door, and when I realized I didn’t notice the car, I began to feel a little uneasy. I texted Michael letting him know about it, but I never received a response. Finally, my phone went off, it was my neighbor and friend to Michael and I, telling me someone stopped by saying that Michael hadn’t shown up for work. In the military, you don’t just not show up for work.
I ran down the stairs and out the front door still in my pajamas and a robe and knocked on my friends’ door, trying to learn as much detail as I could, but we were all clueless at that point. My friends and I spent hours searching for Michael, calling hospitals within a two-hour radius, and the language barrier only prolonged the process. These hours felt like days. That afternoon, I finally got word that Michael had been in a car wreck. I prayed and prayed for God to save my husband, to just let him live. God had answered that prayer, just not in the way I was asking.
I heard a car pull up outside, and I made my way out the door. I saw four men with somber faces and dress blue attire step out of the car. My stomach turned in disbelief and the only thing I remember saying was a very solemn, “No.” I had seen all the movies, but this was my life, not a movie, so it just couldn’t be real. But it was real, my biggest fear was really happening. We all walked inside, I was asked to sit down, and one of the four men proceeded to tell me Michael had died in the car wreck earlier that morning. I slumped into my dear friend’s arms, and I wept—and I wept hard. I had spent hours trying to cling to the idea that he lived through the wreck and was being taken care of in a hospital somewhere, but it just wasn’t so. I was three days shy of twenty years old and pregnant with our first child; this was not how I imagined my life to be. Eventually, I sat up again, and I looked down into the palms of my hands which had written on them, “For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful.” And I spoke, “God is good,” reminding myself that God went before me, and it was not a surprise to Him. With that, I began my undesired journey of widowhood.
What was once just a seemingly irrational fear, is now my reality. I’m a young widow and a single mom to a precious little boy, and you know what? It’s okay. The road certainly wasn’t painless, but God has used it all to grow me deeper into Him.
God allowed me to enter into my biggest fear so that I could experience just how much bigger He is.
When I first began to fear widowhood in high school, I hadn’t yet entered into a relationship with Jesus. I know for a fact that I would not have the hope and peace that I have today if I didn’t have Jesus to walk me through this. He is our only hope.
January 29, 2018
“Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified, just as it is with you. And that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.” –2 Thessalonians 3:1-3 (NKJV)
When someone you dearly love dies, the world doesn’t stop. Although, for the one grieving it certainly seems it should. While you’re focusing on taking your next breath to make it through the motions of the day, the outside world looks like nothing and nobody has missed a beat. Everyone still goes to the grocery store, they pay their bills, kids go to school, and adults keep working. The earth keeps spinning and life just keeps going. In the beginning, it’s utterly annoying, but now looking back on that painful day of loss and the minutes, hours, and months that followed, I see what a blessing it is that life keeps going.
Oh, how awful it would be if everything did stop. There would be no spiritual growth and grief would be stagnant and unrelenting. I don’t necessarily believe that “time heals all wounds.” I believe Jesus does. But, I do believe that time makes it better, and it’s different for each of us. So, if you’re in the very early stages of grief, just know that, yes, it will be challenging, but you can look to the future with hope. It won’t always be like it is now (Praise God!).
We can definitely look forward to our future, but we can’t live in our future; we must live in the present. Along with that, our future won’t even be good if we aren’t learning to see what’s good right now. Six to nine months into widowhood was probably my darkest time—besides the very beginning, of course. But this was different. I think the shock and chaos were beginning to wear off and I was realizing, Oh my…this really IS my life…and I need to accept it.
I knew I needed to accept it, but I didn’t want to accept it. This was a pivotal time where God heavily laid on my heart for me to set my mind on Him, on the good. It wasn’t a harsh, “Okay, Emily, time to get over it!” Instead, I felt my Heavenly Father gently nudging me to stand up with some much needed encouragement, “I see your pain sweet child, I know you and I know your hurt. I want the best for you, and the best for you is to set your eyes on Me, not this world.” James 1:17 (ESV) says, “Every good gift is from above and comes down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” So not only was He asking me to set my eyes on Him, but to praise Him in every good thing, no matter how small, because it is a gift from Him. That fact that God freely gives of Himself, which is already enough, and still gives us more is amazing to me. At the time though, I was severely longing to be launched into the future away from the pain, but God was teaching me that if I couldn’t see the good now, I wouldn’t see it later either. If all I see is bad now, bad will be all I see later. He was training my heart towards gratefulness to Him and away from self-pity.
Sometimes we may think we have the right to self-pity because something awful has happened in our lives. But do we? The right to mourn, yes. The right to self-pity, no. So what’s the difference? Self-pity says, “Why did I deserve this? This isn’t fair. My life is way worse than so-and-so’s.” Mourning says, “This really hurts and it’s the result of a broken world.” In mourning we have the right to acknowledge our pain while also acknowledging the good in our lives. We can also understand that we are not the only ones hurting in this world. Self-pity steals our joy and tells us that the bad will out-weigh the good. It tells us that everyone else’s life is better than ours and a lot less painful or difficult. With that outlook we begin to not only hurt ourselves, but those around us. Self-pity is destructive, not healing. Self-pity is a lie from Satan intended to hurt us. We have to pray for a shift in our perspective, be aware of it, and work towards aligning our minds with Christ.
This is why I said time doesn’t heal, and Jesus does. If we make the choice of self-pity, whether subconsciously or not, we aren’t going to heal. Our wound is going to fester as we find more negative things to add onto it, and time will only be against us. On the other hand, if we choose Jesus, seeing His goodness, and trusting in God’s sovereignty in the midst of our pain, we will experience healing and joy unexplainable.
Can you believe we’re already coming to a close on the first month of this new year? Time on earth is going to keep ticking and life here is going to keep moving until that day we enter into eternity. How will we choose to use it? In thankfulness or self-pity? In growth or decline? In relationship with God or casting Him aside and doing life alone? I can assure you the latter of any of these will not lead to an abundant life. Our lives are not determined by our circumstances, but rather by where we put our trust. Let’s trust in the One who loves us so much He sent His only Son, Christ Jesus, to die for our sins and rose again so that we wouldn’t have to live an eternity separated from Him. God is good. He doesn’t want us “stuck in time” with our grief. If we allow God to use this time on earth to deepen our relationship with Him, He certainly will. He desires us to have His healing and joy and He will faithfully provide.
Father, thank You for Your love for us. Help us to keep moving forward with our eyes and hearts set on You. Adjust our perspectives to be more like Yours. Help us to be aware when our thoughts stray to negativity, so we can go to you to set our minds on things above. Help us to be eternal minded, and not to dwell on things that will only matter temporarily. Give us the faith to trust You to comfort us and heal us. Strengthen our desires to know You more and spend more time reading Your Word. You know us better than anyone ever could, and You love us still. Help us to rejoice in You even when our circumstances hurt. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.